Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pioneers' New League: A First Look

Hope you are all surviving the snow shoveling. I think I join most of you in saying "no mas!"

Well we got to February, so let's start thinking ahead to this year's season. Today, I want to take a quick look at the new league in which the Pioneers will be playing in 2011.

First a bit of history.

The Pioneer football program began in 1958 and until 1972, Lynnfield was a member of the Dual County League playing against teams like Weston and Wayland. In 1973, according to longtime Pioneer coach Harry Jameson, Lynnfield was looking to cut down on travel expenses so they joined the Cape Ann League. The CAL remained a one division league through 2003. By then the disparity in the league was huge and the smaller schools were simply non competitive with the larger ones. The smaller schools threatened to pull out of the league if something wasn't done so in 2004 the league split into Large and Small divisions.

The Pioneers joined Newburyport, Amesbury, Hamilton-Wenham, Ipwich and North Reading in the CAL Small beginning in 2004. However, the MIAA did not grant the small division a playoff berth until the 2006 season. In 2008, Georgetown joined the CAL Small to make it the seven team league it has been for the past three years.

In recent years, there has been significant volatility in the leagues as teams jockeyed for better league placement and leagues began splitting to get additional playoff berths.

In 2009, Lawrence left the CAL Large leaving them with only five teams. The league resolved that problem by having games against CAL Small Newburyport count in the CAL Large standings for the Clippers' opponents. This past year was the last for Wilmington, which is headed for the Middlesex League for the upcoming year.

The CAL also committed to Manchester Essex that they would be allowed to join the CAL Small for the upcoming season leaving the league with a significant dilemma: The CAL Small would have eight teams and the CAL Large would have only four. Something clearly had to be done.

The innovative solution that they came up with was a mega merger with the Northeast Conference to create a 24 team, four tiered Super League to be called the CAL/NEC. The leagues will be split into four, six team leagues with the champion of each earning a playoff berth.

The Pioneers have been placed in the CAL/NEC 4 with North Reading, Hamilton-Wenham, Ipswich, Georgetown and Manchester Essex. The league will remain in Division 3A for playoff purposes. Interestingly enough, the CAL/NEC 3, made up of Amesbury, Newburyport, Pentucket, Triton, Saugus and Winthrop have also been placed in Division 3A.

In October, CAL President Matt Fox petitioned the MIAA to move this league down to Division 4 for two reasons. First the average enrollment for CAL/NEC 4 is 291 compared to the other Division 3A Leagues CAL/NEC 3 (375), Eastern Athletic Conference (408) and the South Coast Conference (505). He also made the argument that keeping the CAL/NEC 3 and 4 in the same division means the two leagues would meet in the first round of the playoffs.

The MIAA was unmoved and voted 15-2 to keep the CAL/NEC 4 in Division 3A which means that should the Pioneers win their league, they would be facing a much larger school from the CAL/NEC 3 in the first playoff game.

But no need to worry about that now. First order of business is winning the league and then let the playoff matchups take care of themselves.

If the new league had been in operation last year, Hamilton Wenham probably still would have won it and gone to the playoffs. They were 4-0 and did not play Manchester Essex, but most likely would have defeated the young Hornets. The Pioneers finished with a 4-1 record against their new leaguemates, while Ipswich went 3-2, Georgetown finished 1-4 beating M/E on Thanksgiving Day and Manchester going 0-4 and not playing Hamilton-Wenham.

So what does the Pioneers' competition look like for the upcoming year? Let's take a quick capsule review.

The 2010 CAL Small Champion Generals would have to be installed as the preseason favorite in the CAL/NEC 4. They graduated 11 seniors but will have 12 seniors this season. They have probably the most explosive weapon in the league in junior Trevor Lyons. He was a running back during the championship run but will most likely be the Generals' quarterback for the next two years. Lyons had a tryout behind center in the Georgetown game last year and looked good. He is a dangerous weapon with the ball in his hands. H-W also returns running backs Elliot Burr and Steven Dakota. Lyons and Burr were both named All League Honorable Mention. The Generals also return four of five starting offensive linemen, so look for the Generals to score some points this season.

Look for the Hornets to bounce back and be a force in the new league this season after a 2010 campaign hampered by youth and injuries. M/E graduated only five seniors but everyone else is back from the team that went 3-7. They will have 11 seniors this year including wideout Maverick MacEachern who caught three passes for 51 yards against Lynnfield last year. They will also have junior quarterback Cory Burnham, who played against the Pioneers when regular quarterback Alex Carr couldn't go. Burnham was a bright spot in the Pioneer rout, completing 10 of 17 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown. Virtually both lines come back intact.

Following the Hornets 10-0 loss to Georgetown on Thanksgiving Day, M/E coach Mike Athanas told Richard Slate of the Gloucester Times "We're losing three starters on both sides of the ball. This whole season was a learning process."

You can expect the winning tradition of this program to re-emerge this season.

North Reading
Look for this Hornet team to be a contender in 2011 as well. NR graduates only six players, although one of them was all everything Nick Rosano. The Hornets will have nine seniors, but their best player might be junior running back Carl Lipani, who will be starting for his third straight year. NR played the superior Pioneers tough on Thanksgiving Day. Their line and defense will be led by junior guard/linebacker Mike Moscaritolo, Both Lipani and Moscaritolo as well as sophomore tackle John Fortes earned CAL All League Honorable Mention last year.

After the Thanksgiving Day game, I told Hornet head coach Jeff Wall his team just might be the favorite in the new league in 2011.

"I'm hoping," he responded. "We have a lot of young guys. The seniors paved the way on how they should be playing. Showed them how to play with heart. Now we just have to get the x's and o's and the Johnny and Joe's and line them up."

Should make for an interesting Thanksgiving Day game.

The Tigers turned it around in 2010 going 4-6 after finally snapping a nightmarish 31 game losing streak. While the attitude will undoubtedly be better coming into 2011, the Tigers have some gaping holes to plug. They lose13 seniors including quarterback Brenden Gallagher, RB Jeff Carpenter, RB Kenny Wing, RB Jake LeBlanc and WR John Eldredge. That group accounted for most of the Ipswich offense last year. The Tigers will have 11 seniors including All League offensive lineman Chris Desmond. They will also have a couple of solid running backs in senior Louis Galanis and junior Peter Moutevelis.

The Royals struggled through a 2-8 season last year and graduate 12 seniors. They will be young next year with only five returning seniors. One of those will be quarterback Tyler Wade, an All League Honorable Mention, who will carry much of the burden for the Royals next year. He will be one of the best QB's in the league but will need a supporting cast around him if Georgetown is to compete in 2011.

That's it for now. See you back here on March 4th and hopefully by then, most of this dreadful white stuff will be gone.